Goodbye Sixth Grade, Third Grade and Kindergarten

Our third year of homeschooling will be logged in the books this afternoon when we meet with our Education Specialist and turn in our final report cards. The charter school system is funny, great, annoying and helpful, all wrapped up together. I am lucky to have a supportive credentialed teacher to help us out with curriculum decisions and roadblocks, but that comes packaged with the requirement that our kids third grade and up take the state standards test and turn in report cards.Report Cards

Filling out the end of the semester report cards is always such a revelatory experience. After weeks of wondering if we’ve made any progress at all, being blind to the forest for all the trees, I sit down with my calendar and curriculum to document everything we’ve done which counts as school. It’s a lot. And it’s all beautiful stuff. And I get to give everyone straight A’s because we don’t give up on our work until we get it right.

In a couple of weeks we will be attending homeschool graduation for our Kindergartener, just like her two older sisters did in their traditional school. I can’t wait to snap pictures of her little tiny face, with a cardboard graduation cap on top of her curly head.

As I say goodbye to my third year of homeschooling what do I have to say about this lifestyle? Well, it continues to be less stressful for our kids, and about the same amount of stressful for me. I have learned a lot about setting a schedule in place and counting on that to return to as I plan my weeks. This might be normal regular stuff for those of you out there who’ve been excelling at adulting for years, but I have always been a reluctant planner. It was a revelation that doing some work planning ahead can leave me space for more flexibility each day.

I’ve also made big strides in learning how my kids learn, and how I excel at teaching. We thrive listening to books together and discussing them. The skill my older two have in critiquing a work of literature or dissecting an argument or philosophy astounds me. It has grown simply because we spend up to an hour every day listening to literature from different genres and eras as we go about our day. If nothing else, my kids will grow up to be skilled editors.

Most amazingly, I’ve learned to love being a teacher who happens to be teaching her own kids. A couple weeks ago at the members meeting at church our head pastor stood up to give his 5 minute breakdown of what he feels our church’s mission should be for the next ten years. “More of the same,” he said. Knowing that he is an enneagram 7 (the Ethusiast) like myself, this was a powerful statement. Embarking on an adventure of sameness is hard for 7s to focus on, but it’s exactly the most adventurous thing you can do. Picking a trail and walking as far along it as you can gets you deeper into the woods than anyone has ever gone before. Walking the first 5 miles of every trail you see doesn’t ever bring you to the serious mountaineering of life.

Homeschooling lets my kids deeply explore their interests without the distractions of busy-work and superfluous grade requirements. It lets me relearn these topics with my adult brain and understand them so much more deeply. Yes, even long division. It also gives us time to become more interesting people, who go camping, rock climb, write movies, travel together, and serve our communities. As I say goodbye to this year of learning, I think I am saying hello to a committed homeschooling future. I’m saying hello to more of the same. And that’s something I have been striving to say for all of my life.

Thoughts on Charter Schools

We’re three weeks into the school year so far. Not really long enough to know the routine instinctively yet, but long enough to have tested the routine. So far things are going great. The biggest change to our homeschool is that we’ve joined a local public charter school called Vista Oaks, which provides us with curriculum reimbursement for materials which reach the State benchmarks for Common Core and are non-religious. They also provide free and optional on-site Enrichment Days once a week in 4 subjects: Physical Ed., Science, Language Arts, and Art. I signed the girls up for these classes because I could really use the few hours off each week. Another bonus is that they can remember what it’s like to have a teacher, to listen in class, and have classroom friends. At the end of the year everyone over 2nd grade will have to take a standardized test for Common Core. That’s one of our charter school requirements since technically we’re in a public school. I was afraid that this would be a big stumbling block for the girls, but they’ve jumped into the Enrichment classes so smoothly that I’m not as nervous to bring them to the testing. I’m honestly not very concerned about their score as much as I am about protecting their confidence in their ability to learn.

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Since joining the charter, I must admit we’ve sorta abandoned traditional homeschooling and begun a more “alternative school” approach. I am still responsible for math, science, reading, writing and history which is done “at home,” but a lot of this is outsourced to others and reimbursed by the charter. I do spend a lot of time in the car getting here and there. But so far the trade-off is all for the positive. My kids love their classes I’ve found in the community. They’re taking academic co-op classes, engineering classes through Playwell Tek, guitar lessons with a private teacher, gymnastics and swimming. We bring our curriculum along with us and work on the road on our busy days. We see our friends in class and fit afternoons at the park and hikes in between classes.

This balance is kinda the best of both worlds. I feel very in control of the education our girls are receiving. We can give more focus to the subjects which they are drawn to and still have time to get the rest done. The girls are developing very strong friendships with a core group of kids, but still have the opportunity to meet new people in their classes and at neighborhood events. But the pressure to be social is not overlapping with the pressure to learn. We can focus on academics in the comfort of our own home or on the road, in our own time, when we are most likely to be successful. But once a week, they are expected to accommodate the social requirements of being in a classroom. They need to wake up and get dressed. They need to prepare in advance, and fit into a larger community. They need to show respect to their teachers and the other students in their classes. And they are very happy in both settings.